- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 23, 2000


Sunday saw a much-touted opening on Broadway of one of Gore Vidal's best-known plays, "The Best Man," now titled "Gore Vidal's the Best Man," a 1960 vehicle about a presidential convention featuring a star-studded cast.
Mr. Vidal's latest essay can be found in a Forbes magazine supplement called ASAP, and another collection of his essays is due out from Doubleday next May.
His latest novel, "The Golden Age" — he calls it the last in an ambitious series of fictionalized American political history centered on Washington — is the focus of two public appearances here Wednesday. He will speak at noon at the National Press Club and at a sold-out event at Smithsonian Institution in the evening.
Well, a fellow has to eat, even one who has a memoir ("Palimpsest") and 23 novels under his belt.
With a 75th birthday looming Oct. 3, this jack of all literary trades remains as voluble and unstoppable as ever. His next project is a remake for TV of "A Catered Affair," a film that originally starred Bette Davis and dates from the 1950s, when Mr. Vidal was at MGM.
He also recently joined the Internet with a Web site devoted to the Broadway play that asks readers to take part in a weekly poll on highly charged political issues, with his own opinions pungently expressed each time.
But he won't go the Stephen King route and start producing short novels on the Internet because that raises too many questions about copyright and payment rights, he says in a telephone interview from New York after the gala opening of the play at the Virginia Theatre on West 52nd Street.
Critics were lukewarm about this "Best Man" production, but Mr. Vidal makes clear that "they did nothing but praise the play."
"I thought the production very good," he adds.
He last did an updated version 12 years ago but believes that doing the same cliffhanger picture of a presidential convention in year 2000 would be impossible, when "everyone knows in March who the candidates are, and the only suspense is the vice president."
Washington native Ethan McSweeny, a St. Albans graduate like Mr. Vidal, was chosen by producer Jeffrey Richards to tackle the job of director. Mr. Richards previously produced Mr. McSweeny's off-Broadway version of "Never the Sinner," which debuted at Signature Theatre in Arlington.
The experience for such a relatively young director (29) of handling a large cast with such theatrical heavyweights as Elizabeth Ashley, Spalding Gray and Charles Durning was "unforgettable and unrepeatable and maybe unprintable," Mr. McSweeny says.
Putting a play on Broadway these days — "the combination of financial difficulties" — is "like running for president," he says. He will next direct "Wit" in Pittsburgh — retreating thankfully to what he calls the "supportive world of regional theater" and another play off-Broadway next year.
"I've been taken to the shed to some extent. One of the perils of having your name at the bottom of the program is that all the bucks stop at your door. It's not uncommon for a director to get credit for what he didn't do — or be stuck with everything that goes wrong," Mr. McSweeny says.

WHO: Gore Vidal

WHERE: National Press Club, 529 14th St. NW; 13th floor.

WHEN: Noon Wednesday

TICKETS: The Press Club lunch costs $16 for members, $28 for members' guests and $35 for nonmembers. A Smithsonian event Wednesday evening is sold out.

PHONE: Press Club, 202/662-7501. Call the Smithsonian Associates at 202/357-3030 to be put on the waiting list.

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